Plant Profile: the Zebra Plant (Aphelandra spp.)

Aphelandra squarrosa
Wayne Ray/Wikimedia Commons

Zebra plant (Aphelandra spp.) is a tropical plant from Brazil that is a widely admired and grown as in indoor houseplant, prized for its great foliage and showy flowers. 

Description

Zebra plant's large, pointed leaves are a deep, glossy green with bright silvery veins that create a striped appearance. When the plant flowers, usually in the late summer or autumn, it bears a tall (8 in.) golden flower bract that lasts for up to six weeks.

Like many true jungle plants, however, the zebra plant poses a challenge to indoor growers in temperate areas. It requires lots of moisture, warmth, and food to really thrive, and indoor conditions, especially in the wintertime, are not naturally conducive to the plant. Nevertheless, even a short-lived specimen is an interesting plant and can be expected to last for several months before it succumbs.

Growing Conditions

  • Light: Prefers bright, filtered light. Do not expose to direct sunlight.
  • Water: Never allow compost to dry out; use lukewarm water to keep soil temperature elevated. Mist frequently during growing season.
  • Temperature: Zebra plants prefer temperatures above 60ºF. Larger varieties (A. tetragona) cannot survive below about 70ºF.
  • Soil: Prefers rich, organic potting soil.
  • Feeding: Feed weekly during summer with liquid fertilizer or use slow-release pellets at beginning of every growing season.

    Propagation

    Zebra plants can be propagated by cuttings in spring. Use a rooting hormone for increased chances of success. Take 2- to 3-inch-long cuttings off of side shoots, dust the cut ends in rooting hormone, then insert the cut ends in a growing medium of peat moss mixed with perlite. Keep the growing medium damp, and provide bottom heat with a heating pad for best odds.

    Keeping a room temperature of about 70°F. and maintaining a fairly humid growing environment (such as in a covered terrarium) will help the cuttings become well established. 

    Repotting

    Repot zebra plants annually, each spring. The most common variety, A. squarrosa, is regularly treated with growth retardants to keep it low and compact.

    Varieties

    • A. squarrosa:  This is the typical zebra plant, with white or silver veined leaves and yellow flower bracts. Varieties include A. squarrosa louisae, A. squarossa 'Brockfeld', and for magnificent leaf-veining, A. squarrosa 'Frintz Prinsler'.
    • A. aurantiaca:  Lower growing, with a red flower bract and grey-veined leaves.
    • A. tetragona:  The basic species, A. tetragona can reach 5 feet long in cultivation, with big, red blooms. It is rarely seen and hard to bloom outside of a greenhouse.

    Grower's Tips

    Zebra plants are often purchased by impulse—a beautiful flowering specimen that is snapped up and displayed prominently until the bloom fades, 4 to 6 weeks later. Afterward, the plants become more challenging to keep alive and coax into bloom again. They require the high humidity, bright light, and ample water conditions of a conservatory or greenhouse to truly be at their best.

    However, a dedicated grower who pays attention to warmth and water will be rewarded with year after year of showy, long-lasting blooms.